He "dedicated long years of his life to weaving a profound dialogue between West and East, at the same time working incisively to root the Gospel in the culture of the great people of China. Even today, his example remains as a model of fruitful encounter between European and Chinese civilisation”. He died in 1610. Celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of his death will take place in many parts of the world this year.
In a message on May 9th 2009 to the bishop of Macerata, the birthplace of Matteo Ricci, Pope Benedict XVI describes him as “this generous son of your land, obedient minister of the Church, and intrepid and intelligent messenger of the Gospel of Christ”. He went on to say:
"In considering his intense academic and spiritual activity, we cannot but remain favourably impressed by the innovative and unusual skill with which he, with full respect, approached Chinese cultural and spiritual traditions. It was, in fact, this approach that characterised his mission, which aimed to seek possible harmony between the noble and millennial Chinese civilisation and the newness of Christianity…”
“What made his apostolate original and, we could say, prophetic, was the profound sympathy he nourished for the Chinese, for their cultures and religious traditions. We only need to recall his Treaty on Friendship (De amicitia – Jiaoyoulun), which met with great success from its earliest edition in Nanchino in 1595. A model of dialogue and respect for other beliefs this son of your region, made friendship the guiding style of his apostolate which lasted 28 years in China. The friendship that he offered was returned in kind by the local populations thanks to the climate of respect and esteem that he sought to cultivate, while striving to gain an increasingly better knowledge of the traditions of the China of the time. Despite the difficulties and lack of understanding that he encountered, Father Ricci remained faithful till his death, to this style of evangelisation, giving birth, we could say, to a scientific methodology and a pastoral strategy based upon, on the one hand, respect for the healthy local traditions that the Chinese people did not have to abandon when they embraced the Christian faith and on the other, based on the awareness that the Revelation would only further enrich and complete this. And it was from these very convictions that he, as the Fathers of the Church did before him in the encounter between the Gospel and the Greek-Roman culture, set out on his farsighted work of the inculturation of Christianity in China, establishing a solid bond with the learned of that Nation”.
“In following his example – concluded the Pope – may our communities, within which people of different cultures and religions live, grow in a spirit of welcome and reciprocal respect”.